Julie Brill: Big data and privacy can co-exist

Big data unlocks unlimited possibilities, but many worry the deluge of information could jeopardize basic privacy principles. However, big data analytics and privacy concerns aren’t mutually exclusive but a real possibility, according to Julie Brill, commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission.

“We can unlock the potential of big data and enjoy its benefits,” she said. “But we can do so and still obey privacy principles that protect consumers.”

Speaking to students at the Polytechnic Institute at New York University, Brill said those in the commercial space very often are told they need to eliminate basic privacy principles to reap the rewards of big data. Companies are encouraged to worry less about overcollection and deletion of data, according to Brill.

Brill highlighted how big data and technology can help consumers. New tools can assist consumers with their credit reports, and give them a more private user experience for their credit information across multiple credit-reporting agencies.


Brill said these 21st-century techniques for responsible use of big data should be introduced to the commercial sphere and industry. Leveraging big data to modernize the credit reporting industry’s systems would be an excellent opportunity, according to Brill.

The trend of the future — the Internet of things — also poses a new challenge to consumer privacy. With so many devices interconnected, users may not even be aware the objects and devices they’re using are sending their data to third parties.

Another challenge consumer privacy is up against is the surge of data brokers. Data brokers are outside parties who gather data and use it to make profiles and sell those profiles to outside sources. Brill suggested in the face of these privacy threats a comprehensive initiative to empower consumers.

“’Reclaim Your Name’ would give consumers the knowledge and the technological tools to reassert some control over their personal data – to be the ones to decide how much to share, with whom, and for what purpose – to reclaim their names,” she said.

Some companies have already responded to “Reclaim Your Name.” Axicom, the largest data broker, has created “About the Data,” which gives consumers access to information about their marketing profiles and the opportunity to contact Axicom to change any inaccurate information.

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